Do large office towers still have a future? The explosion of telework with the pandemic is giving ideas to companies who see it as a source of savings, even if it means changing the world of work in depth.
Since the beginning of the confinement, the business districts have emptied out, leaving an impression of the end of the world, as in Canary Wharf in East London, or La Défense in the western suburbs of Paris. But even at a time when work is gradually resuming, it is now their future that could be at stake, and that of their skyscrapers and other towers, symbols of modern capitalism and the power of the multinationals.
Buildings from the past
Jes Staley, the head of the British bank Barclays, whose imposing and luxurious premises are rightly located at Canary Wharf, believes that " putting 7,000 people in a building could be a thing of the past. We'll find ways to operate at greater distances for a long time to come.« . It summarizes the mindset of many multinational executives who are seeing the success of telework during the pandemic.
The French automotive giant PSA is considering making it the "reference" for its non-production activities, which involve tens of thousands of people, and the American social network Twitter even plans to allow some employees to work from home permanently.
" This pandemic has proven that technology allows for teleworking. I think the real revolution will come from a change in the mindset of the leadership on how to approach flexibility.« Cydney Roach, a manager at the American consultancy Edelman, told AFP.
" It is difficult to know what this will lead to, but employees will have to be involved in finding solutions.« she says.
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Teleworking, a practice that has become massively prevalent
Although not all sectors can apply telework, it has become a widespread practice. The British advertising giant WPP has placed nearly 95% of its 107,000 employees in teleworking, while continuing to maintain services to its customers.
The British property developer Land Securities, which has a strong presence in the City of London, recently estimated that only 10% of its office space was in use.
" There's never gonna be a return to normal.« predicts Alex Ham, co-CEO of London-based Numis Securities. Going to the office Monday to Friday " just won't come back« he predicted in the British daily The Telegraph.
According to an April survey of 300 companies worldwide by real estate consulting giant Cushman & Wakefield, 89% believe that the use of telework will continue beyond the pandemic.
Clare Lyonette and Beate Baldauf, professors at the University of Warwick (central England), point out the advantages of teleworking for companies: savings - especially given the City's exorbitant rents -, better productivity and reduced absenteeism.
" Real estate is one of the most expensive areas of business "to businesses but skyscrapers" are not going to go away« Roach warns, if only because of the need to keep offices in ". dense places like Manhattan"
However, major groups may be tempted to limit their real estate assets, especially since reducing costs will be the priority for many of them in the coming years, in order to absorb the economic shock of the pandemic.
But" Employers need to be aware of potential negative long-term effects.« This is particularly true of the negative impact on team cohesion, warn Clare Lyonette and Beate Baldauf. « A decrease in well-being and loyalty to the company could erase some of the savings« they add.
Especially since it is not even certain that the employees really benefit from it. According to VPN provider NordVPN, employees during this crisis tend to work an average of three hours more per day from home in the US and two hours in France.
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